Since Dustin Johnson turned pro in 2008, no player on the PGA Tour has won more events than Johnson’s 20. With his five-shot triumph at the WGC-Mexico Championship last weekend, DJ also ran his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one PGA Tour win to 12. That’s just two off Tiger Woods’ consecutive streak of 14 (1996-2009) and five behind Jack Nicklaus’ (1962-78) and Arnold Palmer’s (1955-71) record 17. The 34-year-old Johnson also became just the fifth man in the last 50 years to reach 20 wins before age 35.
So just what makes the tall, super-athletic Johnson so consistent? We posed that question to GOLF Academy lead coach Allen Terrell, who just happened to coach DJ at Coastal Carolina University from 2003-2007 and continues to coach Johnson today.
“I think he’s always trying to improve things,” said Terrell, the Director of Coaching and Managing Partner of the Dustin Johnson Golf School, located at TPC Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, S.C. “I think he used to believe he had to out ball-strike people to win, but every year he’s gaining more and more ownership about how his game works. He’s more of a student of the game than people think. He likes getting on YouTube and looking at stuff and trying to figure out things on his own.”
At the end of each season, Johnson and Terrell will sit down and examine DJ’s ShotLink profile, comparing all of his stats to years past to see which areas of his game he can improve upon. Two years ago, much was made of Johnson’s improved wedge play, although that wasn’t as much of a primary focus as people were led to believe.
“All he did was buy himself a TrackMan and it held him accountable to his wedge distances,” said Terrell. “It wasn’t like he changed something to have a good wedge game. He has a feel for how far back he swings with a certain club to hit the ball a certain distance, and he holds himself to it with TrackMan. I mean, every day the very first thing he does on the range is check his wedge distances. He hits a lot more wedges than drivers. He may hit five drivers all day, unless he’s trying out different ones.”
Terrell admits that there has been an increased emphasis on Johnson’s putting, and the statistics bear that out. As recently as 2017, Johnson ranked 81st in Strokes Gained: Putting and 137th in Total Putting. Last season those rankings jumped to 25th in SG: Putting and 78th in Total Putting, and this year he ranks 13th and 27th, respectively. In Mexico, Johnson led the field in SG: Putting, only the second time he’s done that in his 20 Tour victories.
Terrell said that Johnson has a tendency to set his hands back at address, which causes him to push the handle too far forward at the start of the takeaway, delofting the putterface. As a result, the ball comes off the face too fast, forcing Johnson to slow down and leave a lot of putts short and low. In addition to trying to reduce the amount of forward press on the takeaway, Terrell has Johnson work on a number of different speed drills to change his mentality with the putter. In one drill, Johnson is rewarded and receives points for putts he misses high and long, and loses points for putts that finish short and low.
On shorter putts, which used to be the biggest knock on Johnson’s game, DJ has a bowling-like drill he does in which he sets tees upside down (i.e., on the flat part of the tee) 5 feet away and has to knock a set amount over. If he misses, he has to start over.
“He’s gotten pretty good on the short putts,” said Terrell.
Another reason for Johnson’s success and amazing consistency is his ability to break down a course he’s playing for the first time, and figure out a way to compete and win. A number of Johnson’s wins have come on courses he previously hadn’t played before—Chapultepec in 2017 (WGC-Mexico Championship), Oakmont in 2016 (U.S. Open) and Royal Greens a few weeks ago (Saudi International powered by SBIA).
“He doesn’t get too caught up in technique,” said Terrell. “He’s always had a strong inner belief, so if he’s not hitting it his best, he doesn’t just check out, he tries to go out there and figure out a way to compete. You got a guy who cares more about competition than anything else. He just loves competing.”